Commentary: World Baseball Classic draws little interest in U.S.
You can’t blame the World Baseball Classic website – worldbaseballclassic.com – for trying.
When the provisional rosters for the 16-nation tournament were announced Thursday, the site declared that “there is no shortage of big-name stars on the rosters for the 16 countries in the World Baseball Classic.”
The WBC web fairies sprinkled pixie dust over the fact that the Team USA roster did not include National League MVP Buster Posey, American League Cy Young Award winner David Price, American League rookie of the year Mike Trout, National League rookie of the year Bryce Harper and other American stars such as Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander and Andrew McCutchen.
Do a position-by-position analysis and you could argue that the only spot Team USA has its best-available player is in left field, where 2011 N.L. MVP Ryan Braun will play.
Most people would go with Posey over Joe Mauer at catcher, Fielder over Mark Teixeira at first base, Andrew McCutchen over Adam Jones in center field and Jason Heyward or Jay Bruce over Ben Zobrist or Shane Victorino in right field.
You could also argue for Aaron Hill over Brandon Phillips at second base, Ian Desmond over the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins at shortstop and Ryan Zimmerman over David Wright at third base.
Team USA’s starting rotation includes National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, who moved from the Mets to Toronto this offseason, San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong, Atlanta’s Kris Medlen and Texas’ Derek Holland. All four are quality pitchers, but the Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants and Phillies all have a better top three with American-born pitchers than the one Team USA will use in this international competition.
The relief corps is also short on some of the best America has to offer, with Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon and Baltimore’s Jim Johnson among the absent.
To be fair, some of the best players from other countries are also sitting this event out. The Dominican Republic will not have Albert Pujols. Canada will be without Joey Votto. Japan’s Ichiro Suzuki, after driving in the tournament-winning run in 2009, is not playing. Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda also is not on the roster of the team that won the first two WBC tournaments behind the pitching of Daisuke Matsuzaka.
So what should we make of this third WBC classic?
For starters, it generates a lot more excitement in places such as Japan, South Korea, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Cuba than it does in the United States.
According to the bizofbaseball.com website, the Tokyo Dome, with a capacity of 55,000, was sold out for three Japanese first-round games in 2009 and the Rogers Centre in Toronto drew 43,000 for a game between Team Canada and Team USA the same year. The only time the Blue Jays drew those kinds of crowds that year were when they played the Yankees and Red Sox.
Examine the attendance at some of the games in the United States four years ago and it was embarrassingly awful. Six games at Petco Park in San Diego drew just under 92,000 fans. Two of the games had fewer than 10,000 fans.
For some reason, the WBC decided four years ago to play games at Dolphins Stadium in Miami, a football venue where the terms baseball and crowd seldom joined together. Team USA failed to draw more than 17,000 in three of the games.
This year, Team USA will play three first-round games at Chase Field in Phoenix, a venue where the Diamondbacks averaged just under 27,000 per game last season. There is little reason to believe they will surpass that 27,000 figure for games against Mexico, Canada and Italy.
What’s fascinating about the World Baseball Classic is that it’s an international competition involving a sport so many Americans love. We certainly love baseball more than soccer as a spectator sport, but a lot more people get excited about the World Cup than they do the WBC.
It’s because we know the game of baseball so well. We know when the best players aren’t involved. We know we don’t want to watch Team USA play Italy. We know it’s not really the best possible baseball when starting pitchers are on a pitch count.
When they stage the World Cup, the best soccer players in the world participate even though an injury could cost them time on the roster of their English Premier League team. The NHL happily stops its season so the best players in the world can compete in the Olympics, and the level of play is amazing.
That’s not to say that the intensity in the World Baseball Classic isn’t high. Team USA and a lot of other countries have immense talent and the Japanese were rightfully proud after they won the last two tournaments. It’s that pride that likely enabled them to beat more talented countries.
American fans, however, just know that they get to see a better and more authentic product during the course of the baseball season.